Czarface & Ghostface Killah - Czarface Meets Ghostface

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Czarface is the hip-hop collective consisting of producer 7L, underground stalwart Esoteric, and grizzled Wu-Tang vet Inspectah Deck. Just last year, the trio teamed up with the enigmatic MF Doom for a partnered project. Now, they return for their second straight high-profile collaboration, reuniting Deck with his Wu-Tang accomplice Ghostface Killah.

“Back at Ringside” sets the tone of the album with a play on classic wrestling promos. A Randy Savage impersonator lends himself as an early antagonist for Czar and Ghost.  The opening interlude gives way for eleven spacy, heavy-hitting, comic book inspired hip-hop tracks. If this somehow was unexpected, just look at the album cover.

Handling all of the production as a solo endeavor, 7L (George Andrinopoulos) shines through. While keeping an inquisitive touch on his compositions, George tastefully recalls classic 90s hardcore hip-hop and East Coast boom-bap. His gritty and sparse beats add flavor to the three MCs verses while never overpowering. Although the record can seem sonically redundant, 7L peppers in enough quirky vocal samples and turntable trickery to add some much needed diversity. Andrinopoulos has an affinity for the funkier and soulful side of things, and this is seen most prominently on the standout “Iron Claw”.

Lyrically, this record is not without its flaws. For three rappers known for their surgical wordplay and deft storytelling, some bars come off shockingly clunky. For example, take this head scratcher off of “Powers and Stuff”: “The level your buzz be

I do it on my own, you need a clique like Buzzfeed” – a trite line that sticks out for all the wrong reasons. Still, cheeky pop culture references and nods to these MCs geekiest delights add enough charm to compensate for some of the more lackluster lyrical moments present. Listen for mentions of Star Wars, Peeky Blinders, Masters of the Universe, and more.

Ghostface Killah, such a towering figure in the annals of rap, should have been a juggernaut on this record. Instead, he is never truly able to command a presence. Ghost feels dialed in; his singular narrative craft is replaced with forgettable one-liners and underwritten verses.

But while Ghostface ultimately underwhelms, soul singer Kendra Morris makes proper use of her features, adding welcome color to two tracks on the album. Like on the aforementioned “Iron Claw,” her hushed chorus flutters over the tracks murky, snare heavy beats. Morris returns to provide a ghostly hook in between verses on “The King Heard Voices.”

Sadly, lyrical shortcomings hold Czarface Meets Ghostface back from being a truly great hip-hop record. However, the pros, especially in regards to the production and the paradoxical nerdy aggression, outweigh the album’s weak spots. It is not another Wu-Tang project, nor does it ever intend to be. Czarface Meets Ghostface is a concise, fun, and nostalgic palate for hip-hop heads.

Grade: B

Matt Marciniec